As colleagues and peak body leaders within the Community and Voluntary Sector, Ros (EO for CNA), Kerry (CE for CAB) and Prudence (NEO for PSNZ) fell on the idea to partner together and host a Sector Summit in the aftermath of the flooding and Gabrielle. It occurred to each that during the latest series of climate disasters our Sector was incredibly active despite its exhaustion, labour shortage and desperation from under-funding & that it would be good to share our learnings and experience.
We marvelled how despite our immediate response in every crisis, even now we weren’t being seen or utilized effectively within the government’s crisis response.
Ros knew that by bringing organisations together, we would identify opportunities to collaborate more and save duplication and costs. It also occurred to her that if smart, government agencies might wish to attend and listen to the intelligence gathered in one zoom with representatives of our Sector. Community organisations in affected regions need their peak body organisations in the capital to provide opportunities like these, for government to hear directly from Sector representatives how those communities are affected and what they need.
Kerry noted how individuals were constantly making contact with Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) for real time information and the CAB was updating and developing new information in response. Not only could these resources be shared with more stakeholders in the Sector now, who were similarly relied on for information in their communities, but they could help us be prepared for future disasters.
Prudence noted how organisations like Presbyterian Support work with individuals in crisis all year round: so if our Sector is in the business of crisis management on a client by client basis, why aren’t we seen as more integral to any strategic response in times of general disaster? We’ve established trust and already know plenty about what the needs are in every community, we’re serving them whether or not there’s a climate event, earthquake or pandemic.
The Emergency Response teams sent out by Government in the immediate aftermath of disaster for example have as a first job the contact and accounting for everyone, with a stocktake of what each person/household/community needs. This is exactly what every community service organisation also has to do with its client-bases, except we do it with trust already established and prior awareness of health, disability and other wellbeing needs in the household. Emergency Services could be more effective at the rescue end of crisis response if our Sector was partnered and coordinated with to perform the first contact and door to door assessment of need.
The trouble is, our Sector is severely underfunded. Before Covid hit, a Martin Jenkins report for Social Service Providers Aotearoa (SSPA) estimated the shortfall to be around $630million per annum. Covid and its economic impacts have not only increased demand for community cohesion and social services, but most in the Sector report how it has increased the complexity of demand, case by case and community by community.
Government’s support for its contracted partners in the Sector might increase for a time at the start of a disaster – Covid included – but that doesn’t last long. Many Sector stakeholders report that over time their funding has largely stayed the same or even been cut, despite repeatedly reporting to funders the increased complexity of need!
The overwhelming catch-cry among Sector leaders gathered at our Summit was for recognition from our funders that we’re running on empty; our workforces are exhausted, many of us are working beyond our capacity to make up for vacancies. Recruitment is expensive and often fruitless because of labour shortages and the lack of pay equity and parity for the roles we (are under-funded by government to) hire.
Most attending the Summit nodded sadly as one of us lamented “it’s coming out of our reserves” the extra costs of damages, replacement of equipment, recruitment and retention costs. In the back of everyone’s head was that experiential knowledge how the complexity of need is only going to deepen in the months to come for the communities we serve.
This is what we know now comes with every disaster – a tail, or tails; social, economic, and mental wellbeing impacts. Those tails are years long and impact the national community and economy even if a disaster’s immediate impact is local to just one region.
When someone in one of the Summit’s breakout rooms noted we each need to have crisis management plans, it instantly occurred to all of us, why don’t we develop a collaborative crisis management plan for the Sector? The ideas poured in for almost two hours and gladly, Ros was right: four government agencies did show up to listen. It’s a great start to what we hope gains momentum among us in the Sector and all our funding partners, inside and outside government.
Disasters prove one thing: the national community and economy is nothing but a network of small intersecting communities, some thriving, others struggling. There is inequity among us and it’s our Community and Voluntary Sector that’s in the business of serving community interest and those most vulnerable across Aotearoa. We do it better when we collaborate and this is even more imperative in a disaster.
So let’s work on this and let’s work in urgency to be ready, hopefully, before we need it next time.
To learn more about the Summit visit: Wellington Network Summit on Flooding Response Collaboration join the Summit’s development of a Collaborative Crisis Management Plan for the Community and Voluntary Sector please contact:
If you’re a Charity CEO and want to learn about joining a peer support programme amongst Sector Leaders, visit: Hoa Kaiwhakahaere | CEO Peer Support – Hui E! Community Aotearoa
Photo supplied by www.alphapix.nz